On The Wings of An Eagle

Moshe Kempinski

In describing the Exodus from Egypt Hashem declares the following;
“You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings ( Kanfei Nesharim), and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice, and keep My covenant, you shall be My own treasure from among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine” ( Shemot 19:4)
Though there has been much deliberation and disagreement as to whether the word Nesher means eagle or vulture. One of the approaches declares that the word Nesher can in fact mean either. (Daat Hamikrah and earlier commentaries).Furthermore in that vein, context is critical in understanding which of the two is meant. It is therefore most plausible that the word Nesher in our verse (plural; Nesharim) relates to the majestic eagles.

This would also be more appropriate for the verse in Deuteronomy wherein the word Nesher is used again.

“Because Hashem’s portion is His people Jacob, the lot of His inheritance.He found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye.As an eagle( Nesher) awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings, it spreads its wings, taking them and carrying them on its pinions. So Hashem guided them alone, and there was no alien deity with Him.” (Deuteronomy 32 9-12)

In keeping with that view we need to understand why Eagles are used to describe Hashem’s love for His people.

Eagles are large birds sometime almost 3 feet tall. Their majestic yet frightening stance actually mask a tender and compassionate creature. Our sages describe its compassionate and merciful nature regarding its choice of sustenance and its care for her children.

Though being a large bird, the eagle prefers to feed on small dead animals rather than attacking other larger living animals. Furthermore it’s caring and sensitivity for its young is dramatic. Though the bird flies powerfully and swiftly, it hovers and descends ever so gently unto the nest in order to not frighten its young. In Rashi’s words;
He guided them [Israel] with mercy and compassion like an eagle, which is merciful towards its own fledglings and does not enter its nest suddenly. [Rather,] it beats and flaps its wings above its young between one tree and another, between one branch and another, in order that its young should awaken and have the strength to receive it.

It is also a very discerning creature. Though it soars up to the highest of heights, its “eagle eye” displays a clear and unobstructed vision of all that is happening on the earth. That is a great lesson of the great Transcendent and Immanent nature of G-d occurring at the same moment. G-d is beyond our understanding and awareness yet He is constantly aware and understanding of our individual lives and dreams.

Yet more dramatically Rashi says the following about the eagle ;
“Except for eagles, birds carry their fledglings under them for fear that atop the wings would make the fledglings vulnerable to attack from higher flying predators. But eagles have no such fear, since they fly the highest. The danger to eagles is from Man who could shoot an arrow at them from the ground, so the eagle carries the fledglings on its wings with the thought that better the arrow should pierce its body but not the fledglings.”

The deeper message beyond the Divine protection is the awareness is that the dangers that face us are more from the mortal predators below and not from the Divine hand of Justice and compassion from above.

Finally we learn from the verse in Deuteronomy the following
“Like an eagle who awakens its nest, over his young he hovers; he spread his wings, he took him, he carried him on his pinion.”( Deuteronomy 32:11). Beyond the protection of the wings we are told that Hashem is “Like an eagle who rouses its nest”. That involves more than protection. The word in Hebrew” Yair” involves awakening one from a slumber.
That is Hashem’s greatest act of protection. He awakens “sleeping” souls to become all that they are meant to be.
Hashem bore us on eagles wings with mercy , compassion and protection.
Yet at the same time He raised us to the highest heights without letting us lose our perception of what needed to be done in the lower earthly realms.
Finally and most importantly He awakes those that have tired and lost vision to become all that they are meant to be.
“…how I bore you on eagles’ wings ( Kanfei Nesharim), and brought you to Myself”

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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